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ALMSIVI have mercy on this poor, poor utility monster. If the death of all reality would not satiate his hunger for happiness, then perhaps spiritualism is the way to go. Spiritualism and religion in Skyrim is much different to religion in historic Western Europe. In Skyrim, religion is dominated by the worship of the 9 divines, not the ALMSIVI Tribunal. There is a clear cut contrast between old Nordic faith that worshipped gods like Odin and Thor, and Skyrim Nordic faith which worships the Aedra creator gods. Most notably, there are no clear analogies between Odin to Akatosh, both Father gods, and between Thor and Talos, both Warrior gods. But the reason for faith in historic and in Skyrim are approximately the same, the quest for meaning in a depressingly quick and brutal life. Relgion also exaplains and upholds an idolized notion of honor and courage or motherhood and fatherhood in a society. The creation of religion may be in a myth that is spread to uphold the ideal of honor, etc in a society where there is no active incentive for the pursuit such ideals. These myths are spread in the name of the public good, and occasionally they become immortalized in the form of religion. Such is perhaps the origin of the Talos religion.

For me, the most interesting figure in the Skyrim pantheon is Talos, who was once the human emperor Tiber Septim. He was the conquering Emperor-General of Tamriel and exemplified the virtues of manly toughness and paternal benevolence, with millions of human souls upholding his soul as their personal idol. But the fragility of a myth that creates a figure for the public promotion of masculine virtues is apparent. Throughout the game, there is a question of whether or not Tiber Septim is truly divine, with the elves claiming he is not because he was a human and humans can’t be gods, and with the humans claiming yes he is. I will spoil the answer: Tiber Septim is actually divine. It is generally agreed upon by game developers that he fused with Ysmir Wulfarth, Zurin Arctus and the remnants of the dead god Lorkhan to take Lorkhan’s place in the pantheon as the over-soul Talos.

But the reason why Talos is interesting is not because he followed a confusing path to godhood, but because he bears a close resemblance to the Christian God and Jesus. Jesus bears a strained claim to Godhood, being approximately one-third human or all human and all divine at the same time, depending on who you ask. Many people question whether or not historic Jesus is even a little divine, but the refutations of the inquiries behind Talos’s godhood is Bethesda’s own rejection of agnostic arguments against Jesus. Half-divine Talos’s legitimacy is questioned, exactly like how Jesus’s holiness is questioned, and because Talos’s legitimacy is upheld, then through argument by analogy we can say that the game developers would like us to have another look at one of the most popular human religions.

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As I exited the mine through the prisonbreak exit and entered the digital sun. I was confronted by a distraught man called Silverblood who seemed intent on goring me and my new Forsworn friends for killing his wife. Oh well, I shrugged, and began zapping away. My arm rose and his men disintegrated, subjected to the unpleasant experience of having their molecules turned into plasma soup. But here is where things began to go wrong: the Forsworn began attacking the Markarth guards and the Markarth guards began attacking me. Instead of booking it out of Markarth I instead decided to help the Forsworn so I could sack the town.

Why? Mostly out of philosophical perversion, actually. About a week ago, I was confronted with the thought experiment concerning a “utility monster,” that is, someone who can consume without diminishing returns on their happiness. If such a utility monster truly existed, simple-minded versions of utilitarianism can be tossed out because to maximize happiness all happiness must be concentrated in the utility monster. I myself am a devout utilitarian, and I am disturbed that my philosophy can be so easily refuted. I decided to test out this thought experiment and no where can this be done in real life except in the medium of video games.

In Skyrim, I am the utility monster. Of course, I am still human and still subject to diminishing returns on my happiness, but I am an adequate approximation of a utility monster because I am the only person in my digital world that can actually feel happiness. Everyone else is a well scripted c++ sprite. My happiness can only go up if I given things, so that is why I decided to begin attacking Markarth guards and civilians on my capricious whim. My victims do not feel things, I do, and I feel that I want their stuff so I’m taking it. Under the premise of any utilitarian theory, this is the right thing to do.

Several piles of dead bodies later, it is clearly apparent that utilitarianism taken to its most logical conclusions is not a good idea in the real world. Sure I have about a thousand pounds worth of equipment which will make me several thousand gold richer, and my avatar would be really happy right now if he had absolutely no value for NPC lives. But imagine if such a true utility monster actually existed, where my happiness and your happiness are nothing compared to his happiness. Under a utilitarian philosophy, we would be forced to give him more and more because it could only get happier and happier. In a world full of scarcity, we would eventually run out of items to give it, and the rest of the world would be rendered into poverty in order to let the utility monster maximize happiness. The maximum happiness of a society could be achieved where the median person had arbitrarily negative happiness. Clearly then, simple-minded utilitarian theories have an inherent unfairness because there is a failure to distribute happiness to all individuals due to an unbalanced attempt to concentrate it.

Anyways, time to sell my loot.

 

 

 

With my several million magicka and health point ring, I think I’m going to roam Skyrim as a superman. I’ve yet to explore the majority of Markath, so, first stop: Markath. As I entered the Markath gate market place, I suddenly hear a battleroar “For the Forsworn” and see a man stab a women in the back. Looks like it’s time for Twice-Vehk, the I of the tower-circle! As I raised my hand, a streak of lightning sheared through the criminal’s skull and his corpse bounced off a nearby wall. As the Forsworn’s body tumbled lifelessly around and the adrenaline subsided, I began to hear the screams in the background. Immediately, I am accosted by the guards for murder. “But- But- But-” I stammer, as they began hauling me away.

Because I was roleplaying as some sort of good superhero, I did not resist the guards. I’m a good guy, right? Yeah sure, why not. But was what I did really right? I was following a natural rule of the universe, that if a man kills than he must die. This is what a philosopher called Immanuel Kant would call an example of the Categorical Imperative, that certain circumstances compel certain actions. However, while it seems natural that a man very clearly guilty of murder should recieve the death penalty, his actions do not necessarily compel his exeuction. After all, we have not followed due process. The circumstances of the existence of crime within the confines of a society requires one to deal with crime within the setting of society, and in this case, the guards should have made an example of the Forsworn. Perhaps one of the beheadings the Imperials seem so fond of, but nonetheless, it is not the province of citizens acting as vigilantes to dole out justice as they see fit. It is the place of an impartial society setting another example of law and order, another example of doing-it-by-the-book, because only this will ensure a truly sustainable justice system over civilization-time.

ALMSIVI damn it, this hero stuff is harder than I thought.

I woke up in a prison and was informed that I need to dig for silver. I informed the informer that I am actually a demi-god and that he should probably worship my benevolent Love. He laughed in my face and gave me a pick ax. Excellent. … A few prison shivs later, I found myself face-to-face with the kingpin of local criminal operations, and actual king of the Forsworn. Not wanting to be thrown into solitary confinement, I decided to cooperate with King Madanach, who subsequently tells me to ice a rat if I want to get out of this hell-hole. I sighed and grabbed a shiv.

As I was gruesomely murdering Grisvar the Unlucky and ignoring his whimpering pleads for mercy, I realized that Kant was wagging his finger at me again. Just because I am imprisoned does not mean I am compelled to free myself through the Categorical Imperative. I was thrown into this pit for the rather good reason of being a homoicidal vigiliante, and each gory thrust of my shiv into Grisvar’s abdomen just proved that I am completely unreformed of my psycopathic ways. The circumstances of me being a societal misfit compels society to entrap me and reform me, and society’s right to not have its members murdered on whims overrides my right to freedom. If not because of the utilitarian idea of more people being benefited by my avatar’s incarceration, then the fact that I am undeniably guilty of vigiliantism. This guilt of crime forms a true Kantian Categorical Imperative, and the cirumstances of my avatar being guilty compels my avatar’s incarceration. There is a very good reason why prisons exist, and they do not form a moral dilemma because society’s natural right to living free from violations of the natural rights of its members by criminals is far more important than a single individual or a limited collection of individual’s right to freedom. However, execution is not condoned under Kantian philosophy, that is to say, guilt of homicide compels prolonged removal from society and incarceration satisfies this compulsion far better than execution. Execution of criminals, what my avatar is now twice guilty of of, is an immoral act simply because incarceration is based on removal from society and only on the removal of society, so is always a definitive good. On the other hand, revenge is based on not just removal from society, but the satisfaction of Lex Talionis (that is, an eye for an eye). Any arbitrary number of wrongs don’t make right.

After I was finished with the Unlucky one, I joined the prison break, and Kant started wagging his finger more vigorously at me.

The Dwemer had no interesting technologies to offer anymore, but their ideas still lingered on. A few thousand years back when I served with the Neveraine before the Battle of Red Mountain, I knew a couple of Dwemer. Their technology was really more or less clever magic and the power of their technology came from magic (of course, don’t ever tell one that to their face. Refer to it instead as the Ehlnofey or “Earth Bones”). I hoped to emulate their magic. Enchanting is usually done by disenchanting an item to learn its enchantment and then imbuing another item with the learned enchantment through soul gems. To learn enchanting, I traveled to the College of Winterhold, a center of Magicka learning.

Magicka in Skyrim is a learned skill. To become a master in the schools of magic, the trick is to practice, practice, practice. The idea of working for pleasure that is so commonly distributed throughout video games is a mechanic that is capable of teaching young men or women the most important life lesson of them: hard work pays off. This is similarly true in Skyrim if one wants to be come truly powerful (as we will see), and perfectly matches the grinding tediousness of an aspiring worker practicing problems to become a better problem solver. Furthermore, video games like Skyrim can exercise a player’s frontal cortex control, that is, allow them to make better cognitive mental administrative decisions such as working harder and faster. This is a highly marketable skill for players to learn and this video game acquired skill has direct positive impacts in a player’s life.

I traveled through Winterhold town to the entrance of the College, but was barred by a wizard named Faralda. She demanded that I perform a magical spell to demonstrate my competency with magic before she allowed me in. “Fair enough,” I said, and cast candlelight on her. She nodded in approval and led me through the bridge and past the gates of the college. I immediately sought out the Enchanting instructor, Sergius Turrianus, for enchantments and soul gems. To my dismay, he did not sell enchantments or soul gems, but would offer lessons for an obscene price. I decided to instead buy soul gems from the other teachers and practice on my own .

For whatever reason the vendors have a never ending supply of gold and soul gems that replinish every few days. While I gradually grinded my enchanting to level 100, I realized that Skyrim emulated a perfect capitalist system much like World of Warcraft. And because Skyrim is a perfect capitalist system, it makes the dissection of the proportionality between hard work and reward much clearer. For every enchanted life-drain iron dagger that I made, I recieved some predictable amount of gold and experience. This process of magical learning imperfectly mirrors the process of learning esoteric subjects in real life. For example, for every math problem we do, a higher math score will result due to previous exposure. But what is so comforting about Skyrim’s process of learning is the inevitability of our success, which draws an enormous contrast to taking a math test and accidently making a mistake despite repeated hours of practice. Skyrim’s perfect learning system teaches its players that not only the lesson “practice, practice, practice,” but also the anticipation and wariness of accidental mistakes while working. This highly marketable trait is taught to some teenagers through this video game along with the skill of hard work.

While I practiced enchanting and re-enchanting, gargling potion after potion, I only worked with one item. I called it “The One Ring,” and gives its user several million magicka and health points. when I finally finished it at level 100 enchanting. It seems that hard work does pay off. I think I’m going to be a superhero now.

Joining the Imperial legion is just not for me yet. I need to become more powerful, somehow. As Sothas Sil, a former wizard God-King of the Dunmer (=Dark-elves) showed, there are two good ways to do this: technology and magic. I will try technology first. Sothas Sil has been dead for the last half-era, so I need to find how the Dwemer were doing this era in order to learn more about technology.

As Twice-Vehk, but in another existence, I once said that “our brethren, the Dwemer, scorned the Daedra, and mocked our foolish rituals, and preferred instead their gods of Reason and Logic.” The Dwemer built the most scientifically advanced civilization Tamriel (the land of the Elder Scrolls game) had ever seen. However, at the climax of the battle of the Red Mountain, the chief Dwemer engineer attempted to turn the tide of the battle by using scientific research to meld his entire race together into a brass giant to form a god. He failed and the entire Dwemer race vanished that instant. The disappearance of the Dwemer is a testament to the dangers of science and technology. Humans, despite numerous nuclear disarmament treaties, still have enough nuclear power to destroy the world several times over. A delusional human could destroy his entire race with engineered nuclear power exactly like how the delusional Dwemer engineer destroyed his entire race with divine engineering.

The power of human and Dwemer science combines with Dwemer faithlessness to highlight the importance of spiritualism and religion. As Martin Luther King said, “Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control” of that power. The Dwemer were a notoriously faithless race, which is not inherently a bad thing, but this was ultimately their undoing. As the 4th Era Dwemer scholar, Baladas Demnevanni (from the game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind) said, “It was unfashionable among the Dwemer to view their spirits as synthetic constructs three, four, or forty creational gradients below the divine.” That is, the Dwemer believed that if they were not divine, then they were pretty close to it, and so they toyed with incredibly dangerous sciences of Divinity with out fear of the consequences of that knowledge. The story of the Dwemer is not an advocation of religion in the sciences, rather, it an advocation of the judicious application of scientific knowledge into human society grounded on the common morals all religions advocate. In other words, science’s sphere is solely the pursuit of knowledge, and the application of that knowledge must be done by those firmly grounded in the humanities, not those heedless of the effects of those impacts on individuals like the Dwemer. Surely, all humans are safer if there are more safe guards on atom based weaponry and virulent strains of bacteria that can act as bio-weapons.

After inquiring after the Dwemer in inns around Solitude, I learned that there was a human inhabited Dwemer city in Markarth. So I traveled there. Markarth on the outside was intriguing, but its true secrets could only be learned on the inside because Markarth was built on a Dwemer city. Next to the Jarl’s residence was an excavation site, so I stuck by pretending to be a pest-exterminator. Near the excavation site was the largest spider I had ever seen, but I hid in a crevice where it couldn’t reach me and I roasted it to death. Then I entered the Dwemer ruin.

The Dwemer ruin could be described as fantasy steam-punk. It seems there are no Dwemer left in this era either. The convoluted steam pipe windings within the dark and broody atmosphere of the ruin represent the horrors of the irresponsible use of science. The dark rooms and homicidal mechanical objects could just as easily be found in this ruin as in the medical facilities of the Nazi death doctor, Josef Mengele. The Dwemer tools out looking for blood are metaphorical for some of the weapons scientists have engineered, sitting in a dark room filled with the intent of bloodshed, just waiting to be abused. There was nothing to be seen here and no power in its technology. The only thing to be learned here is a lesson.

It goes to show that while science is powerful, science must be applied to society cautiously, or humanity may end as extinct as the Dwemer. So I turned around and made for the College of Winterhold.

continued next time in: Magic in Skyrim

Before I left Windhelm and its racist rebellion, I had a few questions about its leadership and question that I needed answered. The city’s Jarl, or Chieftan, could be approached by anyone (although this was not often done, by the stare I received) so I took the opportunity to inquire after Ulfric Stormcloak’s history. Jarl Ulfric extraordinarily relaxed sitting posture and deep, effortlessly arrogant voice indirectly characterizes Jarls as proud masculine leaders. Proud masculine leaders are often found in today’s socities, take for example former Republican cowboy candidate Rick Perry.

Stormcloak was receptive to questions and told me that he was Jarl of the city and of a region called Eastmarch. Eastmarch is the region that Stormcloak governs and he inherited governence through his father. The leadership in Skyrim is nepotic, but there is also opportunity for one to rise above their station by challenging Jarls in a duel for leadership, and thereby establishing one’s own dynasty. This is reministic of American politics, because there are examples of American political dynasties succeeded by other American dynasties. For example, the Clinton dynasty composed of Bill and Hillary Clinton was replaced by the Bush dynasty, composed of both George Bushes and Jeb Bush (governor of Florida).

Still, while Ulfric Stormcloak might ooze deadliness, his openness about his war plans and the ease of approaching him indirectly characterizes him as one of the slower Cliff Racers on the slopes of Vvardenfell. This is arguably a second parallel we can find in American government: many of our leaders are not the smartest individuals in society.

After Ulfric Stormcloak stopped talking, I bowed and left. I had an ulterior motive for talking to him, other than learning about Skyrim’s governence. That is, I wanted to know the face of my enemy. From everything that I had heard in Windhelm, I realized that Ulfric and the rest of Stormcloak’s were tradionalists and racists, people who would thank Dark Elves like me for helping them and then kick every non-Nord out of their country. The racism in the Stormcloak government is also racism that can be found in American government. After all, if it were left up to the reactionary forces in the American government, they would thank all immigrants in America for their toil and labor, and then ship them back to wherever they came. I left Windhelm for Solitude, the base of the Cyrodillian Empire in Skyrim, to join the force of Skyrim’s salvation.

As I approached the gates of Solitude, a guard informed me that I could talk to Legate Rikke to join the Emperial Army. That was excellent. As I entered the gate, I saw another Imperial beheading. That was less excellent. I hurried along before anyone recognized me as having skipped my own Imperial exceution. Lead by intuition, I walked into the most fortified castle in the city and immediately came head to head with the regional commander, General Tullius.

General Tullius was evidently a crispier cookie than Ulfric Stormcloak because he instantly realized that I was out of place and demanded of me, “Are my men giving free reign to anyone that enters the castle?” He paused, and said “You were one of the prisoners at Helgen.” This is not good, I thought, because I had just realized this was the same man who ordered my execution there. So I blurted out the first thing that came to mind, the truth, “I came to fight for you.” That seemed to please Tullius, “Sure,” he said, “I’m sure you being all imprisoned was a terrible misunderstanding.” And he pointed me to Legate Rikke, a woman, for immediate recruitment.

Tullius’s dialogue shows that he represents the intelligent utilitarian element of modern government. He knew that I was a criminal, but he had a use for me anyways, and he was going to use me. Tullius’s strong leadership is correlated with the ultilitarianism of soverign governments, which use all means necessary to achieve their goals, even questionable ones, like letting deathrow inmates like me join there army and waterboarding terrorists. Furthermore, Tullius recognized merit and was blind to the differences between genders. His second in command, Legate Rikke, was a women and I have yet to see a woman Stormcloak commander. Tullius’s strong leadership is correlated with recognition and promotion of merit, another aspect of modern governments.

Legate Rikke was looking at a map on the other side of the room, and I immediately reported to her. She informed me that I seemed “special,” and that she had an alternative recruitment activity for me. Excellent, I thought, someone who recognized my power. Rikke explained what she had in mind: clearing an entire fortress of bandits. Not excellent. I gulped, said “yes, ma’am!” and then skipped town.

Edit: I conclude that there are high similarities between the governments in Skyrim and the governments that we find today, because the governing principles and follies such as utilitarianism and human stupidity are universal values.

Continued in: Technology in Skyrim

What I saw here in Windhelm as a Dark-Elf Wizard was not very encouraging. I decided I needed a stout drink and ventured on forth to Candlehearth hall. As I walk into the bar, the bar tender loudly scoffs at me, “Another Dark-elf? Why don’t you just move along.” Not wanting to pick a fight, I decide to find another place to drink.

I wind up in the Jarl’s (Cheiftain’s) palace. The local Jarl is a man called Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Eastmarch and Windhelm and leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, and he is seated on his throne talking about his rebel group’s battle tactics decidedly too loudly. I spot a man sitting at one of the tables infront of the Jarl eating, and strike up a conversation with him. He is Brunwulf-Freewinter, one of the town notables, and has a few choice words for Ulfric, even if the Jarl is just a few feet away. He tells me “Whenever a group of marauders attack a Nord village, Ulfric is the first to sound the horn, send the men. But a group of Dark Elf refugees get ambushed? A group of Argonians, or a Khajit caravan? No troops. No investigation. No nothing.”

This is the strongest sign of institutionalized racism in Windhelm. I noticed that the guards turned a blind eye when Suvaris Atheron was being bullied, but the racism is rooted more deeply than in the local police force. The racism can be traced to the very top, up to Ulfric Stormcloak himself. A similar path could be traced within the American government until very recently, because the American government once disenfranchised African Americans with voting laws. The parrallel between African Americans and the Dark elves is given further strength when we consider that there is disproportionate number of Dark Elves in the Stormcloak government like how there are a disproportionate number of African Americans serving in the American judicial branch.

The things that Freewinter had to tell me were disconcerting, but he gave me a way to help out the minorities in Windhelm, I could take care of a bandit band that had been preying on them. A minor allegory can be drawn here, as criminals do disproportionately prey on minorities more than whites due to the simple fact that a larger percentage of minorities are impoverished. As I left town to deal with the bandit band, I discover an Argonian enclave by the sides of Windhelm harbor.

I travel down to the Argonian enclave to see what their opinion is on the racism in Windhelm, and interview an Argonian called Scouts-Many-Marshes. He sighs a name in disgust, “Torbjorn Shatter-Shield,” and continues “He says an Argonian’s labor is only worth a tenth of a proper Nord’s labor. My people are not slaves.” I sympathise with Scouts-Many-Marshes frustrations, and I also learn that they are not welcome in the city. They are forced to live in a ghetto by the harbor. I wonder out loud if I could do anything to help him out, and Scouts-Many-Marshes replies that I could talk to Torbjorn Shatter-Shield for him, but finding a helping hand in the docks was a slim chance because “Nords don’t work cargo.”

The idea that “Nords don’t work cargo” resounds to me personally because it reminds me deeply about Mexican-American labor back home in Southern California. Mexican-Americans are given menial labor that whites refuse to work, perfectly matching the job division between Nord and Argonian. It is pure hypocrisy for a Nord or for a White American to demand that all Mexican-Americans leave America or for Argonians to leave Windhelm because it is the Mexican-Americans and Argonians that keep the place running. Furthermore, it is sad that Mexicans and Argonians are forced into ghettos like the ones they live in. I myself have seen the Mexican ghettos first hand in Southern California, and they are segregated from the white communities like the one I lived in like the way that the Argonians are segregated from the Nords.

I can conclude that the Nord racism in Skyrim is insitutionalized and segregating like the White racism that is present in America. I think I’ll go join the Empire instead.

Next time: Government in Skyrim.